Giardino di Boboli: 5 good reasons why it’s worth a visit

Giardino di Boboli: 5 good reasons why it’s worth a visit

giardino di boboli
giardino di boboli

The magnificent Giardino di Boboli in Florence extends behind the Palazzo Pitti and is a true open-air museum where architecture and nature intertwine. Born as a park of the Medici’s 16th century regal estate, it still hosts sculptures, grottoes, and monumental fountains. Since 2013, it has been part of the UNESCO World Heritage properties for its cultural, artistic, and landscape significance.
Let’s retrace together the main works of the Giardino di Boboli among tree-lined avenues, citrus trees, flowers, and fragrant hedges.

Brief historical notes

A beautiful example of an Italian-style garden, the Giardino di Boboli was desired by Eleonora di Toledo (wife of Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici), who had purchased the land from the Pitti family in 1550. The Giardino comes from the union of the so-called Orto de’ Pitti with a large green area, originally intended for agriculture, known already in the early medieval period as Boboli (a toponym defining wooded areas).
The project was entrusted to Niccolò Pericoli, called il Tribolo, an architect close to Cosimo I and already the creator of the garden of the Castello villa. After his death, many other designers followed: Davide Fortini, Giorgio Vasari, Bartolomeo Ammanniti, and Bernardo Buontalenti, who, however, respected the initial design.

The Giardino was designed in geometric compartments, populated and bounded by trees and flower beds. According to the tradition of the time, linear groves quite dense enough for bird catching were also created: the “ragnaie”, from the name of the nets (“ragne”) that were stretched between the leaves to capture birds.
Over time, the configuration of the garden underwent various transformations that explain its current appearance:

  • The 16th century is synonymous with the rediscovery of classical culture. Therefore, it is not surprising to know that in this period an ample elliptical space inspired by Roman hippodromes was realized (later becoming the place of the Anfiteatro) at the foot of the Belvedere hill. The Grotta Grande and the Fontana dell’Oceano by Giambologna made the garden even more evocative;
  • During the 17th century, the initial borders were expanded and, above all, its configuration was enriched with some scenographic elements: three labyrinths were added, covered passages of vegetation (Cerchiaia grande and Cerchiaie piccole) and the famous Isola. The old Anfiteatro was transformed into a masonry structure;
  • With the end of the Medici dynasty in 1757 and the transition to the House of Habsburg-Lorraine, the Giardino di Boboli were neglected for a few years, then subjected to modifications and restorations, still admired today. A large avenue was built connecting the Piazzale di Bacco to the Anfiteatro, and new buildings were erected, such as the Kaffeehaus, the Limonaia, and the Palazzina della Meridiana;
  • The Napoleonic domination (1799-1814) marks another period of decline for the Medici garden, which only with the Lorraine restoration was reorganized and brought back to its original appearance. In this period, additions and radical changes were not lacking: the Annalena entrance and the Limonaia gate were realized. The 19th century, however, coincides with the greatest loss for the architectural heritage of the garden: in 1834, by the will of Grand Duke Leopold II, the vegetal labyrinths were destroyed in favor of a large carriageable avenue.

Since 1850, the Giardino di Boboli have undergone few significant changes and, except for maintenance and replanting interventions, have remained substantially unchanged.

What to see at the Giardino di Boboli

Before starting the visit to the wonders of the Giardino di Boboli, it is important to remember that the park develops on a hill. A configuration that ensures breathtaking views of the city and the surrounding hills.
Studying the route in advance can make your experience even more enjoyable.

Find the map here.

giardino di boboli anfiteatro
Anfiteatro, Giardino di Boboli

Anfiteatro di Boboli

Those who enter from the Palazzo Pitti are immediately welcomed by the large Anfiteatro.
The Anfiteatro was conceived by Tribolo as a plant architecture to redevelop the space occupied by the quarry of “pietra forte”, the material used for the construction of the Palazzo Pitti. Transformed into masonry under Cosimo II and taken up by Ferdinando II, it was completed in 1634, assuming an appearance very similar to the present one.
However, its use changed over the centuries: from a space for performances to a formal garden, finally the site of country festivals (sometimes even open to the public).
Between the end of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th century, the Egyptian obelisk and the red granite basin from the Villa Medici in Rome were inserted in the center of the arena in the same current location.
Elements that, combined with the grandiosity of the work, contribute to its historical and cultural charm.

giardino di boboli gritta del buontalenti
Grotta del Buontalenti, Giardino di Boboli

Grotta del Buontalenti and the Venere by Giambologna

On the north side of the Piazzale di Bacco is the Grotta Grande or Grotta del Buontalenti, the last of the architects who, between 1582 and 1593, was in charge of its realization.
Located on the site of the nursery designed by Giorgio Vasari, the grotto owes its current function to Grand Duke Francesco I.
The entrance, decorated by Giovanni Battista del Tadda with symbolic figures, Pace and Giustizia, and with the emblems of Cosimo I de’ Medici, the Capricorn and the turtle, is still enjoyable. On its sides, there are the beautiful statues of Bacco and Cerere by Baccio Bandinelli (1552 – 1556). The interior of the grotto consists of three rooms where art, history, and alchemy mix in line with the interests and taste of the grand duke.

giardino di boboli grotta del buontalenti interno
Grotta del Buontalenti (internal chambers), Giardino di Boboli

In the first room, the walls decorated with bas-reliefs, stalactites, and stalagmites by Piero di Tommaso Mati, form a suggestive frame for the Prigioni by Michelangelo, placed at the four corners. The sculptures by Buonarroti, now preserved at the Galleria dell’Accademia and replaced by white cement copies, had been placed here by Buontalenti with the function of telamons of the great vault. In the circular opening, it seems that once there was a large crystal sphere inside which fish swam. It is certain that water flowed over all the walls – frescoed with various species of European and exotic animals by Bernardino Poccetti – with surprising chromatic effects.

giardino di boboli grotta del buontalenti interno
Grotta del Buontalenti (internal chambers), Giardino di Boboli

The decoration of the second room is instead more classic, with niches and geometric frames. At the center stands the sculptural group Teseo ed Elena by Vincenzo de’ Rossi, pupil and collaborator of Baccio Bandinelli. This second environment is more intimate compared to the first but presents aspects of continuity, such as the calcareous concretions, the shells, and the stone flows present on the walls or ceiling, a common thread of all three rooms.
Finally, the third chamber – called the Grotticina di Venere for its small size – is decorated with a refined floral and animal motif on the entire vault and hosts the Venere al bagno by Giambologna: a masterful interpretation of the serpentine figure dear to the artist. The statue had not been initially thought for this place but, most likely, was instead located in the center of the Isola. This is demonstrated by the genesis of the elements that make up the underlying structure: the basin of African green marble and red Portasanta, with four figures on the sides, in white marble; and the central rock, which supports Venere, adorned with sponges, quartz, and shells, imitation of the natural concretions like those observable on the walls of the entire Grotta.
The three internal chambers are not aligned with each other, but misaligned: a disposition that allows even from the outside to glimpse Giambologna’s masterpiece.

giardino di boboli fontana dell'oceano giambologna
Fontana dell’Oceano, Giambologna, Giardino di Boboli

The Vasca dell’Isola and the Oceano by Giambologna

The large oval basin, designed in the 17th century by Alfonso Parigi, is occupied in the center by an islet surrounded by water, accessible via two passages. Giambologna is responsible for the realization of the mighty Oceano that reigns marble in the middle of the Giardino dell’Isola, today replaced by a copy (the original is preserved at the Museo Nazionale del Bargello). Made in 1576 for the Anfiteatro, the Oceano finds its current location in 1636.
On the pedestal – a large granite bowl transported from Elba by the will of Cosimo I – the personifications of the rivers Nile, Ganges, and Euphrates and some mythological scenes such as the Ratto di Europa, il Bagno di Diana, and the Trionfo di Nettuno are recognizable.

Dynamically emerging from the water are the equestrian sculptures Perseo e l’Andromeda by Giovan Battista Pieratti. The walk around the island is rhythmed by Florentine school statues representing peasants or hunters. 

giardino di boboli limonaia
Limonaia, Giardino di Boboli

The Limonaia

Designed by Zanobi del Rosso, the Limonaia was commissioned by Pietro Leopoldo of Habsburg-Lorraine to host and adequately protect the rich family collection of citrus fruits, initially placed in the Giardino dell’Isola.
The structure, 106 meters long and 8 meters wide, was erected where the Animal Pen used to be, which were transferred to the Ménagerie of Belvedere in Vienna.
The construction, dated between 1777 and 1778, was carefully designed by Giuseppe Cacialli. Its south orientation indeed allows the over 500 citrus bowls to find an ideal shelter from the winter cold, while the internal arrangement on walls at different heights guarantees light to all plants.

The area in front of the Limonaia hosts a wonderful garden of flower beds and temporary plants. Among these can be recognized, depending on the season, daffodils, gladioli and peonies, flower garlic, dahlias, pink mallow, chili peppers and the Ganges amaranth: an explosion of colors and scents.

giardino di boboli kaffeehaus
Kaffeehaus, Giardino di Boboli

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The Kaffeehaus

Pietro Leopoldo of Lorraine is credited with having wanted the Kaffeehaus, initially called “new casino under the fortress.” Also entrusted to Zanobi del Rosso, it was completed in 1775 and decorated, starting from the same year by painters Giuseppe del Moro, Giuliano Traballesi and Pasquale Micheli.
The building, conceived in an airy rococo style, served as a shelter for the court during walks and as a place for tasting chocolate.

Suggestive and refined in its internal decorations and coverings, the Kaffeehaus is structured in a circular body, divided on three levels with terraces and topped by an onion dome.
Inside, a graceful triangular staircase crosses the building and allows reaching the first floor (where the Grande Stanza and the secluded sitting rooms are located) and up to the belvedere.
From here you can enjoy the same enchanting view of Florence that the grand duke shared with his guests.

These are just some of the things to see in the Giardino di Boboli, which host countless other wonders of art and architecture such as the famous Fontana del Carciofo, the Viottolone, the Grotta Madama, and the Piazzale di Bacco with the unique statue of the Nano Morgante riding a turtle.
For those who love culture and nature, a visit not to be missed!

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